Slapton Sands

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We've just experienced a war with Iraq. Every single death of a serviceman or woman has been reported world-wide, in details that affect, not only their immediate families but everyone who hears the news.

Today, it seems absolutely incredible to us that nearly 1000 of those lively young men, who came to Devon when the Americans joined the war in Europe, should die here - off our coast - on a training operation called Exercise Tiger. Even more incredible is the fact that most people in this country knew nothing of their deaths for almost half a century.

 

The tank memorial at Torcross

The tank memorial at Torcross

 

Ken Small, who led the retrieval of this amphibious tank from the sea off Slapton Beach in 1984, wrote a book about Exercise Tiger called "The Forgotten Dead" which is published in paperback by Bloomsbury. His book includes a listing of all the American casualties he has so far identified - no easy task because it involved breaking into the ring of secrecy which has surrounded this incident since it occurred.

 

Slapton Sands

Slapton beach

 

On June 6th 1944, American troops landed on the coast of France at two Normandy beaches code-named "Utah" and "Omaha". It was the culmination of a highly complex military operation involving millions of American, British and Commonwealth soldiers. Operation Overlord, the so-called D-Day landings, was the turning point of the war in Europe which ended in June the following year.

The Americans put months of effort into the training of the assault troops who would carry out these landings. The place they chose for this purpose was Slapton beach here in Devon because it so closely resembled Utah beach, north of Carentan on the French coast.

 

Torcross c. 1950 with Slapton Ley in the background

Torcross c. 1950 with Slapton Ley behind the houses

 

In 1943, tens of thousands of  troops began to move into the district. The first arrivals were billeted with local people for miles around but then, a decision was made to use live ammunition to train the men under battle conditions.

 

 

This would include aerial strafing and artillery bombardment so, with six week's warning, 3000 people were evacuated from their houses and farms. By Christmas 1943, everyone, together with farm animals, pets, agricultural machinery and furniture, had gone to emergency accommodation, some moving as far away as Dartmoor.

The evacuated area took in the 8-mile stretch of beach  from Strete to Torcross and went inland for about 10 miles, taking in the villages of Torcross, Stokenham, Sherford, Chillington, East Allington, Blackawton*, Slapton* and all the places in between.

Church Lane, Slapton. c. 1898

Church Lane, Slapton. c. 1898

 

 

*Villages with Stentiford connections

  

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  Last modified:
30/09/2005